Above: A Soft Murmur on an Android

In an ideal world, reading break means catching up on projects and papers due at the beginning of March, though the allure of slacking off and having a good time can be challenging to ignore. It can be tough to focus at this point in the semester, having just come out of mid-term season and it looks like there’s no end in sight, but using ambient noise to your advantage could benefit you when studying or giving that final push for the last half of the semester.

While some of us prefer a lone, quiet space to work, others prefer lots of background noise, or some might work best in a mixture of both. There might be a scientific explanation to such a preference.

According to a study done by the University of Illinois on the effect of noise on creative thinking, sounds created by a coffee shop and other ambient noises at 70 decibels (noise level comparable to a TV in the background) creates the perfect breeding ground for creativity and helps focus the mind. Sounds too loud, like the sound of a garbage disposal, or too quiet, were found to hinder concentration.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor leading the study, found that extreme quietness sharpens your focus, but stifles the creative juices, as it prevents abstract thinking, recommending projects requiring close attention to detail, for example editing a paper, be done in quiet environments.

It’s no wonder, then, that the library on campus and coffee shops like Starbucks are the mecca for studying. But what about those lacking focus at home?

There are hundreds of sites dedicated to providing a myriad of ambient sounds to help focus and soothe, and there are even a lot of app options for focus on the go.

Software like asoftmurmur.com, found both online and in the Play Store, lets you personalize your own medley of sounds, with dials adjusting to the desired level of ambient noise, whether it be sounds of a thunderstorm, rain, crashing waves, and, of course, a bustling coffee shop.

Whether you get the full week off for reading break, or need a little help in your upcoming projects, ambient noise might just be the push you need to get yourself in the right mindset. Happy studying.